Westman Islands

Our second day in Iceland started early. We drove an hour from Selfoss to Landeyjahofn ferry terminal. There are 7 ferries going to Westman Island every day in summer and it takes about 40 mins to get there. Adult tickets are 1600 ISK (about $13) and transporting a small car on the ship costs 2300 ISK (about $20) each way. Initially we weren’t sure if we should take the car with us to the island but since we were only spending a day there, we decided it would be easy and fast to have a car.

view of the islands from ferry

It’s even more important to take the car with you on the ship in winter. Many times in winter, the Landeyjahofn terminal closes due to weather and the alternate terminal is a 3 hour ferry ride away. If you get stuck on the island, it’s good to have your car with you, especially if the alternate ferry terminal is hours away. We took the 10:45 am ferry from Landeyjahofn. We woke up a little later than expected and had to skip coffee and breakfast. Thankfully, the ferry had a cafe on board so I avoided a caffeine and hunger headache.

Heimaey harbor

One of the main reasons I wanted to visit Westman Island was to see Puffins. It’s one of the best places in the world to spot these cute little birds also known as “the clown of the sea”. In summer over 1 million puffins lay their eggs on Westman Islands. They can dive underwater and eat small fish like eel. They are also super cute. There are lots and lots of puffins in the water and on grassy area on Westman Island.

lots of puffins just chilling in the water

Westman Islands include 15 islands. Heimaey is the largest and only populated island of the Vestmannaeyjar islands. It’s about 5 sq miles and almost half of the town was destroyed in 1973 when Eldfell volcano erupted. No one died but the town had to work really hard to protect it’s harbor, their main source of livelihood and connection to mainland. The town people used sea water to cool the lava before it reached the harbor. The view of the islands as the ferry approaches is just unbelievable. We even saw a tour group in small boats go into one of the caves.

ferry approaching Heimaey

Once we checked into our Airbnb we looked at going on one of these boat tours that takes you around the islands and inside a cave. In the end we decided against it because a 1 hour tour with Rib Safari costs about $104/person. That’s almost $208 for 1 hour! Too rich for my blood. We decided to drive around the island instead. The island is small so getting from one end to the other doesn’t take more than 15 minutes.

Heimaey

The first thing we did after checking into our Airbnb was drive to puffin lookout point close to the southern tip of the island. Heimaey has a population of about 4,500 people and 8 million puffins in summer. We parked our car and went on a short hike to a small green cabin with lots of small windows. It helps protect you from the wind and makes puffins feel safe. If you have a nice camera, you can get some amazing pics of the little guys. The best I could get with my camera is this pic, below.

this guy was waiting for his mate

We watched this guy look for his mate for a while before moving on. Here’s a short video of him trying to find his mate. We saw hundreds of puffins. We hiked around for a bit then drove Storhofdi, the southern most tip of the island. The view is similar to Puffin Lookout Point except you can also see Eldfell and Eyjafjallajokull. Over 30 species of birds breed on these islands. In August, baby puffins sometimes get lost because of the town lights so island children help them find their way to the sea. Reading that story made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

hike at Storhofdi

We hiked around Storhofdi for a bit. Next we stopped at the eastern side of Vikin, a black sand and rock beach. On the beach we saw a local family collecting seaweed so I asked them about it. Turns out, they collect the seaweed, clean it, dry it and eat it as a snack. This place has serious sci-fi vibe. It’s unlike any other place. Smooth black sand and rocks covered in seaweed with yellow bulbous pods. There were also a few pieces from a shipwreck. It’s the kind of place I expect to see in a Star Trek episode.

Syol seaweed

On the western side (shows up as Vikin on Google maps) was also a black sand beach but there were no rocks. We saw a few birds but they were too far for us to identify them. For me, the weather was very cold but I guess it wasn’t too cold for Icelanders because I actually saw a family swimming in the ocean. After watching the waves and walking around the rocky beach for about half an hour, we felt hungry. It was time for some fresh seafood. After all, fishing is the island’s main industry.

That red mountain is Eldfell

We woke up early and haven’t really had much food so it was time for some fresh seafood. We had lunch at a restaurant called Gott. It was recommended to us by a guest at our Airbnb. Her family is from the island and they moved after Eldfell erupted. She knew the island very well. Catch of the day at Gott was spotted wolffish which I’d never heard of so we had to try it. It was delicious and wish other restaurants had it on their menu. Canada has actually classified this fish as threatened and at risk of extinction. I guess that’s why it’s not on any other restaurant menu.

puffin lookout poiont

Best part about midnight sun in Iceland is that it literally never gets dark. So after waking up early and hiking all day we decided to take a nap around 4:30 pm to re-charge. We were up and out again around 6:30 pm and it was still very bright. We drove to the other side of the ferry terminal where we saw thousands of birds in this one small location. We saw lots of oyster catchers too. Video.

Viking houses replica

Next stop was Herjolfsdalur museum where there are two replicas of Viking houses. These are beautiful houses and you can walk inside free of charge. There was only 1 other family around so it was very nice and peaceful. It’s surrounded by huge cliffs and rock formations. We walked around the area, closer to water and the views are amazing. You can kind of see elephant rock from here and the walk is beautiful. You see some of the other islands, other boat tours and a beautiful golf course.

inside the viking house replica

Westman Island Golf Course is right next to Herjolfsdalur museum. It’s possible to walk around the golf course but it’s easier and faster to drive to the golf course. The golf course is open to public. There’s no membership or fees required. If you have your own golf clubs, you can just start golfing. During midnight sun, you can golf 24 hours a day, literally. There’s no fence, no gate, no one to stop you. It’s also the best place on the island to see elephant rock.

near Herjolfsdalur museum

If you need to rent golf clubs they only cost $70 to play a 9 hole round. It’s super affordable and I can’t think of a better place to practice golf if we had an extra day on the island. We walked around the golf course but you have to be careful not to get hit by one of the golf balls. You can get great view of elephant rock from boat tours with Rib Safari but the view from this golf course is just as good and it’s free. Just walk towards the edge. Here are more pictures of Heimaey.

elephant rock from Westman Island Golf Course

We wanted to watch the sunset from the top of Eldfell. So we stopped by a small deli to pick up a sandwich to take with us on the hike. Eldfell hike isn’t very challenging. It’s 1 mile long and 660 feet elevation so it’s a little steep but we reached the top in about 35 minutes. Though, I had to take a few breaks to catch my breath and to enjoy the scenery. It was also VERY windy that day. There’s a memorial not too far from the base of the hike.

view at start of Eldfell hike

The coolest part about this hike was that this mountain did not exist until 46 years ago. It was created when Eldfell erupted in 1973. This is probably the youngest piece of land and we’re hiking it! The eruption started at the end of January and ended in early July. More than 400 homes were damaged or buried. Some of the houses were excavated and are part of the museum on the island. As you hike up, the view of the city and mountains in the back is beautiful.

Eldfell hike

On the other side is black volcanic rock covered in what looks like moss. You can also see the harbor along the hike. On the south side is volcanic peak Helgafell and ocean in the east. The contrast is so stark on this hike. There’s grass and small wildflower growing and then a few inches away, there’s nothing. Just red lava sand and no vegetation AT ALL. The difference you see just within inches is so striking that the only word I could come up with is “WOW!”.

such different geology

The hike is very well marked and it’s strongly recommended to stay on the trail. Because if you shovel a few feet, the ground is hot enough to cook meat. In fact, many locals do just that when there aren’t too many tourists around, volcanic BBQ. Our plan was to watch sunset from Eldefell peak but it was too windy. I almost dropped my phone so many times trying to take this video at the top of Eldfell because of wind. We barely stayed half an hour at the top before we gave up and hiked down. Click here for more pictures of Eldfell hike.

At the top of Eldfell

We figured puffin lookout point near the southern tip might be a better place to watch the sunset. It was not only very windy but also a very cloudy night. The temperature had also dropped and my jacket wasn’t warm enough. I really should have taken my winter jacket but I didn’t think I’d need it in summer. The sunset didn’t seem too spectacular and we didn’t have the energy for another late night. We had a ferry to catch in the morning so we went back to the Airbnb around midnight. Here are more pics of our day on the island.

sunset from puffin lookout

Follow me on Instagram: rupal.kakkad